Phononic Devices’s should have more than double efficiency thermal electric devices commercially available by the end of 2012

Phononic Devices has advanced semiconductor materials for high efficiency thermoelectric devices. The DOE ARPA-E gave them $3 million in funding.

They expect to start selling the devices to electronics cooling-and- refrigeration customers near the end of 2012.

Phononic Devices materials and devices are expected to more than double thermal-electric efficiency — compared to conventional thermoelectrics — for the interval between room temperature, which is 73F, and 248F. At wider temperature differentials they indicate they can increase from the usual 10% to 30% conversion. This is expected to result in a $/W energy savings of 75% for power generation and 60% for cooling, respectively.

The claims of higher efficiency would suggest a thermoelectric figure of merit of about 3 (at least higher than 2).

There is definitely competition in the electronics cooling area and also in high-temperature waste-heat recovery for automotive or power plants. There is also competition in very low-temperature waste-heat recovery — sensors, detectors, and wearable materials for the military. There are “pure plays” at the very low temperature range or at the high end. We believe that’s because operating within that low-grade temperature sector is really hard to do. But we have the three legs: performance (the fundamental ability to decouple thermal and electronic mechanisms), cost (efficiency with which we can manage heat), and manufacturability (using existing semiconductor processing in our path to market).

The global electronics cooling market for applications between 70F and 250F is $4.5 billion, refrigeration is $6.5 billion, and harvesting low-grade waste heat is about $3 billion. The thermoelectric-specific market — that is, of modules made from semiconductor materials engineered for thermoelectric behavior — is $300 million in global sales annually.

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